Living dream leads to tribal liaison work
By John Budnik
The Alaska District's tribal liaison fell into harmony with her passion for cultural anthropology. For Amanda Shearer, it's part of a bigger dream.
Behind the neatly decorated cubicle walls is an employee that provides the district with more than a friendly face for Alaska tribes. She serves as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' link to 40 percent of the nation's federally recognized tribes.
If a proposed Corps project has the potential to impact tribal rights or resources, Shearer will coordinate with one or more of the 229 tribes in Alaska. As a result of these efforts, she was honored during the ninth annual USACE Tribal Nation Community of Practice conference in December.
She received a certificate of appreciation signed by Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations, which recognized her ability to "demystify the Corps" and "forge cordial relationships across the state" during difficult regulatory permit negotiations.
Shearer emphasized the importance of engaging tribes early in Corps activities to facilitate effective communications.
"When we're working with members of the community, I think we're doing a better job," Shearer said.
Shearer was hired as the district's tribal liaison in 2008. She directly supports the commander's responsibility for coordinating government-to-government relationships between the Alaska District and federally-recognized tribes. It's the variety that keeps her job interesting.
"I get to learn a lot about the district and work with all kinds of people on many different projects," Shearer said.
The district supports tribal sovereignty, but also searches for ways to include tribes in Corps activities that build economic opportunity while preserving cultural identities. The Corps coordinates with tribes on many different levels through various programs. Although tribal involvement may be accomplished through any of the Alaska District's programs, most of it is handled through civil works, environmental clean-up and regulatory projects.
Additionally, the Corps is required to offer government-to-government consultation to federally-recognized tribes when its action potentially could affect tribal rights or resources, such as subsistence or cultural properties. USACE aims to foster trust and respect while enhancing communication between the Alaska District and the Alaska Native community. That's where Shearer comes into play.
Her duties include correspondence between the district and tribes. She also facilitates meetings between the district commander and tribal leaders or between the project manager and tribal administrators.
Shearer was born in Anchorage and raised in Chugiak. Her family moved to Hilo, Hawaii when she was in middle school, where she was a minority in the neighborhood and public school system. Shearer said this experience impacted her and cultivated an interest in cultural anthropology.
After earning a bachelor's degree in sociology with an emphasis in anthropology from Montana State University in 1997, Shearer worked here as a contractor in the specifications section until 2001.
As a graduate student, she expanded her duties by also working for the native liaison's office from 2002-2003. She left the Corps for an opportunity to develop her professional skills as the native liaison for U.S. Army Garrison Alaska at Fort Richardson. During that time she also earned her master's degree in applied cultural anthropology at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2005.
As native liaison for U.S. Army Garrison Alaska, she had the autonomy to tailor the program to her preferences, which honed her program management skills. The issues she dealt with concerned the interests of Army-managed lands at Fort Richardson, Fort Wainwright and Donnelly Training Area near Delta Junction. The coordination resulted in close long-term relationships with the affected tribes, she said.
Her previous responsibilities differ from those at the Corps, which is a project-oriented organization. District work allows the opportunity for Shearer to develop relationships with tribes across the state, not just those close to an installation. These engagements helped to enhance her people skills, she said.
In her free time, Shearer enjoys spending time with her two sons, especially in outdoor activities.
When it comes to life and achieving her goals, the journey is her greatest source of joy while doing what she loves.
"Things happen for a reason," Shearer said. "As long as you're pursuing your dream, it's going to work out."